Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Remaking the Wheel

I struggle a lot with how to approach criticizing the feminist work being undertaken by other women. Often, I fear, there is so much criticism coming from outside the movement that its counterproductive and damaging to partake. Yet, sometimes I think its necessary that women working in the feminist activist sphere be called out on certain behavior that is counterproductive to their stated goals.

Which brings me to the issue of C.Lit a new feminist literary publication started last year by a group of women in Yale College. I have two bones to pick with these women, even though I appreciate their stated goal of publishing feminist writing by Yale women, in all its editorial, journalistic, and creative mutations. Obviously, I a huge proponent of getting more women's voices out there engaged in our collective public media sphere.

1. The name C.Lit. I believe it stands for Women's College Literary Magazine, or something akin to that. The rationalization I heard was that the intention with the name was to find something clever and eye catching in the tradition of Bitch and Bust magazine. The only snag here is that there are some fundamentally important differences between the titles Bitch and Bust, and C.Lit. First of all, neither of those words EXPLICITLY refer to a female sexual organ. Second, both of those words are meant as puns, and critically: can be used as VERBS, thus giving the titles an active, engaged, combative meaning totally absent from C.Lit, a word that will forever be relegated to the realm of passive nouns.

2. STOP REMAKING THE WHEEL. Yale College, and the Women's Center, has a magazine called Aurora whose project has always been to publish Yale women's feminist writing. Granted publication of this magazine has been spotty, especially over the last few years, but to create a new magazine rather then resurrect an old one, disassociates contemporary Yale feminist work from the amazing work done by our predecessors and helps to relegate that work to the dustbins of our collective Yale memory. If instead, this group of motivatd women had thought to do some research on the history of feminist publication at Yale, and seen that as recently as last year there was such a magazine being published, and one that has been published on and off for the past twenty or so odd years, they could have aligned themselvesm with, and inserted themselves into, an extensive, important history of Yale feminist activism. And by doing so, they would have further strengthened the impact of their publication, as well as given due respect to those who came before them. But instead, they decided to start a new publication, thus becoming a part of a tired tradition of Yale students remaking the wheel so that they can say that they STARTED a new magazine, no matter how unoriginal or derivative.


Chelsea said...

Good luck getting Yalies to stop re-creating things so that they get credit for founding them on their resumes.

Who thought the name C.Lit was a good idea? Another difference between that and Bust/Bitch is that you can send Bust and Bitch in the mail without offending too many people, and something with the word "clit" in it would seem to me to be much harder to circulate beyond a limited college audience.

Anonymous said...

In California there was a radio station called KLIT-FM - the LIT meaning their "light music" format - i think it's perception at work as well as age - younger people may know that "clit" is an abbreviated slang for clitoris but older people don't use slang and abbreviations quite as much and there is also a difference between younger and older people's slang and word usage.

Of course, getting older and changing happens to everyone - Adda, Basha and Maggie will be very different people in their 40s and 50s to the ones they are in their early 20s.

estv said...

responding to the criticism of titling a magazine C.Lit - Bust explicitely refers to a female organ and bith/bust remain offensive words to many. I'm not sure that I would send either magazine to a grandmother, though I certainly would like to. I also want to problematize the idea that feminism should be reduced to semantics (that is verb vs. noun) - while it's certainly not irrelevant and is significant to discuss the active vs. passive nature of a verb, a magazine that is titled C.Lit with an interview with angela davis on the cover - in this case the content seems infinitely more signficant than debatng terminology. this issue also comes up when i think of the herstory vs. history semantic debate (which is different from c.lit vs. bust to be fair in that herstory continues to engage in patriarchal terms in a way that is comical and doesn't break out of them) - but in both cases, the semantics debate seems to occur at the detriment of debating the substantive issue of the erasure of female history in public discourse and the establishment of a publication dedicated to engaging the yale campus in feminist/womanist dialogue.
is it also entirely negative to put an aspect of the female body that has been regarded in detrimental ways (see fgms) and calling it out for what it is? i myself am not sure though am inclined to think otherwise. i am curious as to what you all think when it comes the "vagina monologues" in that case.
for the sake of posterity, the magazine is technically titled the women's college literary magazine.
that being said - as women on campus have expressed nterest in such a magazine, i am also curious to hear what you might name it otherwise.

keep up the feminist work!

estv said...

because i am slow at reading - here's my response to the making the wheel comment (and apologies for block lettering but it's necessary)



it's evident that the premise behind this magazine was not made clear - the women's college literary magazine or nicknamed c.lit is dedicated to the promotion of feminist research pieces (not literary works as the aurora has a long history of doing, of which i am well aware having spent significant amounts of time attempting to revive it through past board members) with special intent on feminist perspectives spoken by women of color / faiths (i.e msa), though certainly not limited to these.

from the onset thus, the magazine will drastically differ from aurora from a structural point of view, as it is not a literary magazine but has the explicit intent of analytically discussing relationships between class/faith/ and other such divisive social boundaries. in fact, reviving aurora itself would be a good idea, if anyone were actually interested in doing so.

it is hugely problematic to me that divergent feminist voices are seen as 'derivative' to some larger feminist movement. women (or any feminists for that matter) who seek to express alternative views are either made to streamline their particular and unique perspectives into one ideologically autocratic view of feminism that is, to be honest, largely Western at root. this is, note, in no way a critique of feminism simplistically defined as the movement to support women in all eco/socio/political struggles for independence.

it is however, a critique of the essentialist view that women's rights movements must be reduced to the particularities of the Eurocentric feminism which unfortunately for many women/men has come to mean feminism itself. i am calling for the right to a heterogeneous feminist movement - not continuing aurora is not simply a structural issue, although they are certainly large enough to warrant the creation of a new magazine, this is a matter of permitting a plethora of feminist view points to enter the discussion of feminism as a means of ENRICHMENT, not as a detraction from the feminist movement.

it is about permitting other societal factors that contribute to identity (class, race, faith etc) enter into dialogue with feminism to allow the women's rights movement to engage in fruitful dialogiue with itself, reflecting the multifacted reality of women's experience today. self-reflection is good.

beginning a new feminist magazine at is NOT ignoring the history of feminist publications (besides aurora) that have populated this campus since 1969 and likely prior. the various publications that have been on campus and that are now archived in the women's center backroom are not indicative of a forgotten feminist history on campus - to me, they are representative of the great diversity of women who have voiced their opinions in unique publications that reflected a thriving, healthy, heterogeneous feminist community on campus. while i have no problem with legacy, i also view women's desires to create unique spaces of communication for themselves based on ethnic (ie aasa, afam, lacasa) / class / faith actual experiences as proof of these feminists' enriching the movement, not detracting.

as to whether or not this magazine will get off the ground, that remains to be seen. but i do hope that if it has a fledgling opportunity of offering students on campus divergent though not dissonent feminist views, the women's center will be able to call the publication its own.


Adda said...

I agree with you that calling new voices to the feminist movement derivative is a problem, but I actually don't think that is what I did. I think its a problem that you think that Aurora, or any of the history of the Women's Center is based on a Eurocentric, White form of feminism. I am not going to argue with you that those elements are there, and have been a part of the history, but a lot of the feminist work at Yale in the recent and not so recent past has actively engaged race, class, religion, etc. in its analysis and criticism of social structures.

And if you don't think Aurora did so, can I point you to Manifesta? But at the end of the day, this isn't even the point. The problem I have is that I think there is SO MUCH VALUE in taking established structures and working to change and better them. What this allows you is the weight that comes with a history, while giving you a better platform from which to carry forth your viewpoint. There is no reason why the scope of Aurora could not expand to include all the things you avow that C.Lit wants to address (by the way, its easy to assume that the publication is only literary sinces thats part of the title). I don't think that encouraging unity across differences in a feminist movement, negates a plurality of opinion.

chelsea said...

Regarding KLIT, was it actually pronounced "clit," or was it pronounced "Kay Light?"

That's pretty amazing though!

Chelsea said...

Regarding plurality... I don't think there's anything wrong with having multiple expressions of feminist thought. But it is sad to see an older (better-titled...) magazine die when there seems (to an outsider at least) to be so much to take advantage of there.

There is also the fact that the organized feminist community at Yale is tiny, unlike, say, the organized lit-loving community that publishes various lit mags. The problem I have with Yalies reinventing the wheel all the time is that it really spreads people thin and wastes resources, especially in smaller interest groups.

In this case there truly may be a need to start over and do something different; I'm just not familiar enough with Aurora to know.

What about Manifesta? Please don't tell me that's not doing well anymore either.

Adda said...

No, Manifesta is fine. I was just pointing to it as a publication that has published all sorts of feminist writing, beyond the literary.

estv said...

One last note on this magazine which needs to be clear I think.

This is a "for us, by us, near us" and in an idyllic world, "funded by us" publication. Because Manifesta has published pieces beyond poetry and short stories does not necessitate that assuming its title will give minority-women the agency which this magazine will.

estv said...

And as to calling out the dominant voice of feminism on campus Eurocentric, though of course feminist and anti-racist work have colluded before at Yale, I am curious as to why some strong feminists I know part of BSAY, ASA, and MeCHA have not found their way to the Women's Center...This deserves some analysis ...